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Jennifer Johnson, Forum News Service, Published January 31 2013

Grand Forks educator accused of luring fired

GRAND FORKS - A Grand Forks educator accused of luring a 12-year-old girl at the Adams-Edmore, N.D., school with sexual messages and online photos has been fired.

Jeremy Patrick Thompson, 28, lost his job Jan. 16 after the Grand Forks School District completed an independent investigation of accusations against him, according to Superintendent Larry Nybladh.

The district has also completed an evaluation of South Middle School officials who interviewed and hired Thompson in 2011, even though he had been asked to resign in 2010 by Adams-Edmore Public Schools for inappropriate behavior with a student.

Nybladh said reference checks, including with Adams-Edmore, did not turn up anything negative on Thompson before he was hired.

Thompson still faces two counts of luring by computer someone he knew was younger than 15. Each count is a felony with a maximum prison sentence of 10 years. His next court hearing is Feb. 13.

Investigation

Thompson worked as a special-education para-educator and coached at South Middle School. He also worked at Schroeder Middle School and Red River High School, district officials said.

The team that interviewed him followed district protocol by running a criminal background check and calling previous employers, which Thompson consented to, according to Nybladh. Two reference calls, including to Adams-Edmore, were made, and Thompson came back clean. The criminal background check was also clean.

It would be very unlikely for the school to not check references, especially as many of the jobs are directly related to children, Nybladh said. “We rely on those reference checks to be accurate, especially in this case, where there appeared to have been some concerning behavior.”

But former Adams-Edmore Superintendent Jim Larson said he doesn’t remember “talking to anybody in Grand Forks or our principal mentioning talking to anybody in Grand Forks” about Thompson.

“We wanted to move as quickly as possible, and we certainly did not want to pass on anything (bad to another school) without explaining the whole thing,” he said.

Contradiction

Thompson told Grand Forks school officials he resigned from his job with Adams-Edmore to “follow his new wife to Grand Forks and to seek employment here,” said Nybladh.

But Larson said he asked Thompson to resign in 2010 after the teacher was discovered passing inappropriate notes to a student.

Larson said he then filed a complaint with Walsh County Social Services, which had already started an investigation on Thompson, and the teacher was gone by the end of the school day.

Efforts to reach Walsh County Social Services were unsuccessful.

“It worked out nice as far as we were concerned, because then he was gone immediately,” Larson said. “The very next day, if I remember right, (social services) ended their investigation and said nothing more had to be done at this time.”

Larson said the former principal at Adams-Edmore talked to at least one school about Thompson, and one school didn’t even grant Thompson an interview.

The Grand Forks superintendent sees it differently.

“I think our primary issue is that both (Thompson) and the previous employers, through Superintendent Larson, did not fully disclose the true nature of the applicant’s previous work experience,” Nybladh said. “It puts those professionals here at a disadvantage when they do not get accurate or truthful information.”

Nybladh said the Grand Forks School District is confident its hiring process works well, but it will examine the incident with Thompson to determine if the process has to change.

He said a committee charged with writing a new hiring handbook will look at a few other school districts’ hiring procedures.

The handbook is part of the Grand Forks district’s effort to update its five-year strategic plan.